Purim begins on the evening of February 23 on the secular calendar. For those of you who may not know, Purim is a Jewish holiday that celebrates Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai saving the Jews from an evil plot at the hands of the wicked Haman.
The story of Purim is found in the biblical book of Esther, called the Megillah, which is read aloud twice during the holiday. Ever hear of the colloquial expression, "the whole megillah"? Well, this is where that expression comes from.
The "Reader's Digest" version of the Purim story goes like this:
King Ahasuerus had a gorgeous wife, Queen Vashti. One day he hosted a huge party, and he summoned Queen Vashti to the court to display her beauty. When Vashti refused to obey his command, King Ahasuerus had her killed for insubordination.
Clearly, Ahasuerus had regrets and soon began a search for a new queen. None of the young women presented to him pleased him until he saw Esther and fell madly in love with her, not knowing she was Jewish. Ahasuerus made Esther his new queen.
Here's where the story gets good. Haman was the chief adviser to Ahasuerus and, I might say, a bit full of himself. One day, he became deeply offended by a Jew named Mordecai who refused to bow down to him. Little did he know that Mordecai was Esther's cousin.
Haman persuaded the king to send out an edict to the kingdom that called for all the Jews to be killed. Mordecai asked Esther for her help. He wanted her to talk to the king. Obviously, this was a dangerous move for Esther, since it was forbidden to talk to the king without being summoned and, after all, he had killed his first wife for not obeying the rules.
In the end, she found the courage to see the king and he offered to grant her anything she wanted. She told him that Haman was plotting to kill all the Jews and, because she was really Jewish, he was also plotting to kill her.
Angered that Haman would dare attempt to kill his beloved wife, the king had Haman hanged and Esther's cousin Mordecai got Haman's job.
One of the best parts of Purim is to dress in costume and bring treats and good cheer to your friends and neighbors, which lends a carnival-like atmosphere to the holiday. My non-Jewish friends fondly refer to it as Jewish Halloween.
One of the traditional treats of Purim is the hamantaschen. These delectable, three-cornered cookies are the mainstay of the holiday. Theoretically, the shape is supposed to represent Haman's ear or his dorky three-cornered hat.
Traditionally, these treats are filled with a poppyseed, prune, raspberry or apricot filling. Non-traditionally, aka, in my house, they are filled with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, cinnamon chip struessel, or chocolate chips and mini marshmallows. Sometimes, like Esther, it's good to break a few rules.
Hamantashen are super easy to make and always a crowd pleaser. Make a few dozen for your friends, then a few dozen for yourself, and eat the whole megillah! Have a lovely holiday.
from the Jewish Holiday Cookbook
- 2/3 cup margarine or butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 1/2 - 3 cups sifted unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- dash of salt
Optional: Depending upon the filling (like the fruit preserves), sometimes I like to add a little orange juice and a little orange zest to the dough.
Cream the butter and sugar. Add egg and cream until smooth. Add vanilla. Stir in sifted flour, baking powder, and salt until a ball of dough is formed. (A food processor is excellent for this.) Chill for 2 -3 hours or overnight. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Taking 1/4 of the dough, roll out on a lightly floured board to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Cut into 2-inch circles. With your finger put water around the rim of the circle. Fill with 1 teaspoon of your filling and fold into three-cornered cookies. (Press two sides together, and then fold the third side over and press the ends together.)
Bake on a well greased cookie sheet for 10-16 minutes,until the tops are golden.
Note: For a prettier cookie you can brush the cookie with an egg wash before baking.